Jessica Padrnos, December 6, 2002
The Yuman-speaking Colorado River dwelling Native American tribes are attributed to creating an impressive array of intaglios in the Colorado River region of Arizona and California. Intaglios are images created in the earth by scraping away layers of desert dirt. By doing this, exposure of the durable layers of smaller stones which are locked together in a natural mosaic pattern result; this is called desert pavement. Intaglios have been dated in this area to 5000 years ago, up to the most recent estimation of 70 years ago for one piece in particular. Intaglios or geoglyphs of these peoples are said to be created in sacred places where actual events of the god’s portrayed in them occurred. The images are said to represent, or even embody, their Creator god, and his helpers or other gods. The following sources deal with the geoglyphs of the area where the Yuman-speaking Indians have dwelled, and it is their people to which are attributed to creating the images hundreds or thousands of years ago.
Wullenjohn, Chuck. “Quechan Indians Boast Long Colorado River History.” United States
Army Proving Ground Website,
This article gave the brief overview of the history of the Quechan Indians, one of the tribes of the lower Colorado River, and speakers of the Yuman language. Quoted in the 15th paragraph of the article, is a quote by Pauline Owl, “Quechan Cultural Resources Manager and direct descendent of tribal Chief Pasqual of the late 1800’s.” Here, she discusses the remnants of her ancestors in the shards of pottery, circles of rocks, and petroglyphs. She goes on to explain the meaning of some of the symbols found on the rock art. For example, she explains that an depiction of an animal may mean that somebody may have spotted that animal, or they may indicate “family names” or even have religious symbolism. Owl completes her statement by emphasizing the point that these items were “once part of the home for our forefathers – it is an inheritance from them.”
“Rock Art Was Made By Shamans and Ritual Initiates” Rock Art of Native California: A Vistor’s Guide. Bureau of Land Management of California, http://www.ca.blm.gov/caso/rockart.html#who-made, 1998.
This is an on-line brochure full of information dealing with California rock art. This particular article about “who” exactly created the intaglios located in southern California has been attributed to the Colorado River tribes. These larger than life depictions were carved into the earth by removing layers of the sand and dirt in a particular area. These intaglios can be well over 100 feet in diameter and can fully be seen only from the sky. This article states that these images were created uniquely from other types of rock art. Specifically that “intaglios were made to portray mythic events at locations where these events were said to have occurred. They were used in ritual pilgrimages which traced the path of the mythic past across the landscape.”
Williams, Clint. “Sprawling figure a mystery - Fisherman believed to be done in
past 70 years,” The Arizona Republic. Saturday, February 3, 1996: Page
This article exploited the controversy of the creator of the “fisherman” intaglios located northeast of Quartsite, Arizona. This article describes the two views of the creator of this rock art. Some say that it may be attributed to local Colorado River Indians and it was created within the last 70 years. Many intaglios have been dated to over 5,000 years ago. Another possibility of the creator of the image would be that it was made by an “Avant-guard” artist who decided to sculpt the floor of the desert. The meaning behind the “fisherman” is explicitly detailed and is said to be Kumastamho the Creator. Legend says that Kumastamho drove his spear into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to answer the prayers of his people for water. He is likewise attributed to carving the course of the Colorado River with his spear; the water flowed towards the home of the Yuman-speaking tribes. This was their myth regarding the creation of the Colorado River.
Williams, Clint. “Desert Etched Geoglyphs Endangered - Intaglios damaged by sprawl, vehicles,”
The Arizona Republic. Saturday, February 3, 1996: Page Al.
This article discusses the most possible likelihood that intaglios, or geoglyphs, will become lost overtime to desert animals, vehicles, and passersby. One paragraph in this article specifically discussed the purpose of these large scaled desert images. It is obvious that these images were not created for the enjoyment of man, but were created for the enjoyment of the gods. “…They were not created for the viewing of critical mortals.” Due to their massive size, “geoglyphs generally are simple and characterized by irregular lines and proportions.” Boma Johnson, an archeologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Yuma, Arizona said he could not “think of a single [intaglio example] where [a person] could stand on a hill and look at [an intaglio in its entirety].”
Montgomery, Anne. “A Vanishing Wonder: Arizona’ Geoglyphs,” Arizona Highways. November 2002, Pages 6 – 13.
A detailed article revolving around three specific geoglyphs located to the southeast of Quartsite, Arizona. The author accompanied Boma Johnson, one of the former Bureau of Land Managers for Yuma, Arizona, around the desert to view the images. Johnson was able to give interesting details about some of the images. For example, when discussing the “fisherman” motif, otherwise known as Kumastamho, the people who rendered the geoglyph used white quartz to make accentuate his spear. According to Johnson, “white quartz is a very sacred rock to the people of this region.” These images are attributed to the Colorado River Yuma-speaking tribes; which exact tribe is uncertain as nearly all of the area’s tribes share the tradition of Kumastamho as their creator who provided them with the Colorado River. A detailed description into the process of creating intaglios was described as well.
“Yuha Geoglyphs, ” Rock Art of Native California: A Visitor’s Guide. Bureau of Land
Management in California website, http://www.ca.blm.gov/caso/yuha.html 2002.
A brief overview regarding the geoglyphs located east of Calexico, California near the border of Mexico in the Yuha Desert. Due to their location, these geoglyphs may be attributed to the Yuman-speaking Colorado River Indians. It is noted that these particular geoglyphs were used in “rituals commemorating myths, and for purification with ceremonial dances.” Apparently, these sites were destroyed by acts of vandalism in the 1970’s, but were reconstructed by the BLM and Imperial Valley College of El Centro, California. The images are described as “interesting ritual designs.” Directions to view these rock art images are provided.
“Blythe Geoglyphs,” Rock Art of Native California: A Visitor’s Guide. Bureau of Land
Management in California website, http://www.ca.blm.gov/caso/blythe.html, 2002.
These intaglios are said to the be “most famous” in America and are located near the Colorado River a few miles north of Blythe, California. These images are attributed to the Yuman-speaking tribes and were “used during ritual pilgrimages made along the Colorado River” when individuals would travel from the Land of the Dead to the place of creation, from south to north. The Blythe intaglios are said to depict their creator deity, Mastamho, as well as a mountain lion which served as his spirit helper, and perhaps Kaatar, his evil twin brother. Scientific dating can place the creation of these images to 1100 years ago. Directions to view these rock art images are provided.
“Blythe Intaglios,” Bureau of Land Management: Yuma Field Office website. Arizona Bureau of
Land Management, http://yuma.az.blm.gov/intaglios.html, 2002.
A brief overview of the features, facilities, fees, and limitations, of the site, are stated. Directions to the site are also included. At each of the three locations given, there is one human form and one animal form present. According to the Quechan and Mohave Indian tribes, the depictions represent intentional figures. All of the human figures are to represent their creator of earth and all life, Mastamho. “The animal figures represent Hatakulya, one of two mountain lions/persons who helped in the creation.” It is said that in ancient times to honor Mastamho and Hatakulya, “sacred ceremonial dances were held in the area.” It must be noted that the two tribal input references are that from the Quechan and Mohave Indian Nations; these tribes are Yuman-speaking peoples of the Colorado River area. Explicit directions are given as to how to locate the rock art site.
“Fisherman Intaglio,” Bureau of Land Management: Yuma Field Office website. Arizona Bureau of
Land Management, http://www.az.blm.gov/yfo/fisherman.html, 2002.
Gives brief details as to the features of the rock art site, the fees/permits required, the limitations of vehicles, and other miscellaneous information. The information describing the site states that there is a human figure holding a spear, as well as a sun shinning over his head, and a fish swimming below a water-like image. This short article goes on to add that Native Americans have commented that this motif may represent their Creator making the Colorado River. Directions are given to find the rock art site.
“Corn Springs Petroglyphs,” Rock Art of Native California: A Visitor’s Guide. Bureau of Land
Management in California, http://www.ca.blm.gov/caso/cornsprings.html, 2002.
The rock art found located in the Chuckwalla Mountains in the Colorado Desert are said to be a “transitional region between the Colorado River-dwelling Mojave peoples and the desert living Cahuilla peoples. These geometric shaped images are said to be created by shamans during their vision quests. Images such as these were “considered signs of supernatural power by Native Americans.” These images are thought to be less than 1000 year old. Detailed directions to the site are provided.